Want to know what Hawaiian Island is the best to visit? Find out here
It’s a hard choice to make, trying to decide which Hawaiian island to visit on your—possibly—once-in-a-lifetime vacation to Hawaiʻi.
From the alluring shores of Waikīkī Beach on Oʻahu to the stunning Napali Coast on Kauaʻi, it’s almost an impossible decision to make.
So what is the best Hawaiian island to visit? For city slickers, Oʻahu is a great choice.
Nature lovers will love Kauaʻi, and those seeking culture will want to check out the Big Island.
Maui’s got a little bit of everything, and it’s a great choice for couples.
Of course, there is no wrong choice when it comes to deciding what is the best island to visit in Hawaiʻi.
Every island in the state of Hawaiʻi, from Lānaʻi to Molokaʻi and Kauaʻi to Oʻahu, has something for every type of visitor.
So when the age-old question arises—what is the best Hawaiian island to visit?—the real answer is that the best island to visit in Hawaiʻi is the one that interests you the most.
Oʻahu is just as good for families as Maui is, and nature lovers will love the Big Island just as much as Kauaʻi.
While a certain island may appeal more to specific types of visitors, there really isn’t a bad island to pick.
Below are a few select categories to provide quick answers, and below those are more in-depth island guides to help narrow down your search.
For Surfers: Oʻahu
Oʻahu has some of the best surf breaks in the world.
The Seven-Mile Miracle is a literal mecca for surfers looking to test their skills on the infamous North Shore, and breaks like Sunset Beach, Haleʻiwa Beach Park and Pipeline are all considered legendary in their own right.
For Romance/Couples: Maui
The gentle upcountry hillsides and quaint communities that make up the Kula district of Maui will make an easy nest for lovebirds.
On the island’s southern coastline resides Hotel Wailea, Relais & Châteaux, which is a couples-only resort perfect for those searching for the perfect romantic getaway.
For Unwinding: Hawaiʻi Island
If you’re really looking to get away from it all, look no further than Hawaiʻi Island (the Big Island).
Larger than all of the other major Hawaiian Islands combined, there’s more than enough space to disconnect from civilization—and your cell reception—and truly find your own corner of paradise for a week or two.
For Activities: Kauaʻi
The Garden Isle is home to a whole host of fun activities and natural beauty, from horseback riding along the Māhāʻulepū Trail to snorkeling around Tunnels Beach and checking out Waimea Canyon—which is often referred to as the Canyon of the Pacific.
New surfers will love getting their feet wet at beginner-friendly surf breaks, like Hanalei Bay, and hikers will be put to the test on the stunning Kalalau Trail, which snakes in and around the Napali Coast.
For Culture: Molokaʻi/Lānaʻi
While planning an entire trip around Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi might be a bit much—the islands are small and in many areas unpopulated—you can get a real sense of aloha and island culture with a quick visit.
OʻAHU: The Gathering Isle
BEST FOR: FAMILIES, SURFERS, NIGHTLIFE, SHOPPING
The most populated and thriving island in the Hawaiian Island chain, Oʻahu is perfect for those looking for an abundance of activities, a popping nightlife scene, a wide variety of shops and businesses to choose from, and for some of the best surf breaks in the state.
Oʻahu is home to Honolulu, the capital city of the state of Hawaiʻi, and is also where the thriving streets of Waikīkī reside—a visitor’s mecca.
Leʻahi, more commonly known as Diamond Head, is also a must-see Oʻahu attraction—fortunately you get a great view of it from the plane during your flight into Honolulu.
Families—especially those with keiki (kids)—will love what Oʻahu has to offer.
From the historic sites of Pearl Harbor to family-friendly, fun-first surf lessons at Waikīkī Beach, there’s a never ending supply of things to do for an ʻohana.
Like we mentioned at the top of this article, surfers looking to put their skills to the test will be immediately drawn to the world-class surf spots located on Oʻahu’s North Shore.
The south shore of Oʻahu is also known for being a great locale during the summer months—when the North Shore is flat—to find exceptional surf.
Nightlife really does live on Oʻahu.
There are more bars, clubs and drinking holes found in Waikīkī than anywhere else in the islands.
And unlike many businesses found on Maui, Kauaʻi and Hawaiʻi Island, things stay open late—we’re talking past 10 p.m.—in Honolulu.
While Waikīkī is best known for its after-hour festivities, Honolulu’s Downtown district is also a great place to enjoy the night.
With Ala Moana Center and SALT at Our Kakaʻako within ten minutes of each other, Oʻahu is a shopper’s paradise.
From small boutiques to major chains and everything in between, The Gathering Place has it all.
And if you’re looking for luxury brands like Chanel, Gucci and Moncler, head over to Waikīkī’s Luxury Row.
OʻAHU: Where to Stay
- For the North Shore Visitor: Turtle Bay Resort
Recently renovated and sporting a new, chic surf boutique vibe, Turtle Bay Resort has been a North Shore favorite for literal decades and for good reason.
With every room having an ocean view, you won’t find a nicer accommodation right on Oahu’s North Shore.
- For the Beach Bound: Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort
Among the most iconic Waikīkī resorts, the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort is fun for the whole family.
Being so close to Waikīkī Beach is also a huge plus for visitors who don’t want to have to drive to the beach.
- For Couples: Prince Waikiki
There’s nothing more romantic than looking out over the hundreds of sails and boats in the Ala Wai Boat Harbor from the Prince Waikiki’s infinity pool, while sharing a mai tai from the poolside bar with your significant other.
Just outside of Waikīkī, the Prince Waikiki is great for couples looking to find themselves a bit of peace and quiet while still being in the midst of it all.
- For Families: Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa
Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa is without a doubt one of the best hotels on Oʻahu for families, especially those with young kids.
With a cast of Disney characters, a keiki friendly pool—and lazy river—as well as a spa parents will love, the property is perfect for the whole ʻohana.
MAUI: The Valley Isle
BEST FOR: NATURE LOVERS, SURFERS, ROMANCE, HEALTH & WELLNESS
The collection of valleys, ridges and natural chasms of Maui are a jaw-dropping sight, one that’ll burn its image into your memories for a lifetime.
Maui is perfect for couples, nature lovers, those seeking health and wellness as well as surfers—that’s right, it’s not just Oʻahu with all the world-class breaks.
With a mixture of country charm and thriving communities and towns, Maui is a perfect island for first-time visitors, showing the best of what Hawaiʻi has to offer.
And with natural wonders like ʻIao Valley, Haleakalā and Molokini Crater, the Valley Isle will impress visitors time and time again.
Nature lovers will immediately be drawn to the grandiose topography of Maui, which features the dramatic canyons and ridges that gives the island its nickname—the Valley Isle.
Among the many valleys and mountains that call Maui home, ʻIao Valley is especially stunning with the vegetation-covered lava remnant Kuka’emoku (Iao Needle) standing over 1,200 feet above the valley floor.
The Road to Hāna also has some of the best hikes and trails on the island, and roadside waterfalls and blacksand beaches are a common sight along the pristine drive.
While Oʻahu is the most popular island for surfing, surfers may want to look towards Maui for waves.
Along the northern shoreline of the island is the surf-centric town of Pāʻia, which is akin to Haleʻiwa on Maui.
Minutes away is Hoʻokipa Beach Park, which is considered a mecca for windsurfers.
The visitor-fave town of Lahaina also has exceptional surf found along Lahaina Harbor, and the long stretch of coast making up Olowalu is perfect for beginners and longboarders.
Lovebirds looking for a romantic nest will adore Maui and its upcountry communities.
From Kula to Makawao, these gentle rolling hills and high-altitude climes will make it easy to cozy up in one of the many homey bed and breakfasts in the area.
Maui is also home to one of the best adults-only hotels in the state, Hotel Wailea, Relais & Châteaux.
While going on vacation may mean a break from working out and exercise, those seeking health and wellness opportunities will love what Maui has on offer.
From doing goat yoga in Kula with Maui Goat Yoga to taking surf lessons with the excellent Maui Surfer Girls surf school, those looking to move their bodies will find an endless number of options to choose from.
Mana Foods in Pāʻia is also a great place to go for health foods and locally sourced organic produce.
MAUI: Where to Stay
- For Surfers: The Paia Inn
Not only will wave riders love being so close to world-class breaks on Maui’s north shore, but just being in Pāʻia—with its sand-coated streets and barefoot, free-love vibe—will speak to boardriders and those with beach-y dispositions.
- For Romance: Hotel Wailea, Relais & Châteaux
Found amongst a tropical hillside located 300 feet above sea level, Hotel Wailea, Relais & Châteaux is one of the only adults-only resorts in the state and is the perfect place for love birds to nest.
And with 72 suites spread across the 15-acre property, there’s plenty of privacy and space for couples to call their own during their stay.
- For Families: Grand Wailea, A Waldorf Astoria Resort
Located in the Wailea district of Maui, the Grand Wailea, A Waldorf Astoria Resort has one of the best pools in the state—which is ripe with competition.
The “activity pool” is perfect for families with kids, coming in at 2,000 feet long and featuring nine distinct pools on six different levels with a massive lazy river connecting it all.
Located on the beach, the resort also features an excellent lūʻau that is fun for the whole family.
- For Solitude: Hana-Maui Resort, a Destination by Hyatt Residence
Hāna is one of the most isolated locations on Maui, requiring visitors and locals alike to make a long, gorgeous and winding drive along the Road to Hāna to reach the small community.
And the Hana-Maui Resort, a Destination by Hyatt Residence—previously the Travaasa Hana—is Hāna’s only major resort and takes full advantage of the area’s isolated beauty.
Guests stay in gorgeous cottages and can enjoy a variety of amenities offered by the resort, but the joy of “getting away from it all” is truly the best aspect of the property.
HAWAIʻI ISLAND: The Big Island
BEST FOR: CULTURE & HISTORY, NATURE LOVERS, ACTIVITES, VOLCANOES
Hawaiʻi Island—most often referred to as the Big Island by kamaʻāina and sometimes the Island of Hawaiʻi—has the undeniable charm of “old-Hawaiʻi.”
Unassuming mom-and-pop shops serve some of the best local fare you’ve ever had—and no, they’re not on Instagram, or even on the internet—, there are still under-the-radar beaches and its residents show that authentic aloha spirit that has made Hawaiʻi so popular amongst visitors.
And being the largest island in the Hawaiian Island chain, hence the nickname, the Big Island has a huge variety of activities and things to do for visitors.
First and foremost, Hawaiian culture and history are alive and well on the Big Island.
From the original Kamehameha statue in Kapaʻau to the seemingly untouched nature of Waipiʻo Valley, the Big Island has maintained its old-Hawaiʻi charm and reverence to ancient Hawaiʻi.
It’s no surprise that the Merrie Monarch Festival—the largest and most prestigious hula event of the year—takes place at the Edith Kanaka’ole Stadium in Hilo every year.
With so much space—again, it’s called the Big Island for a reason—there’s so much undeveloped land on Hawaiʻi Island.
This means that nature lovers will have tons of options to choose from when looking to explore Hawaiʻi’s great outdoors.
From the rugged Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park to Kona’s exceptional beaches—Hāpuna Beach is a true standout—there’s almost too much to see on your visit to the Big Island.
And, of course, you can’t really talk about Hawaiʻi Island without mentioning the volcanoes.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a key attraction on the Big Island and is home to two of the state’s most active volcanoes, Kīlauea and Mauna Loa.
Geology buffs will love the truly unique geological features found in the park, from naturally formed steam vents to remnants of old lava flows and the epic Halemaʻumaʻu Crater, which has one of the only viewable lava lakes in the state.
If you’re looking for truly unique activities to do while on your vacation to Hawaiʻi, the Big Island is chock full of one-of-a-kind things to do.
From snorkeling with manta rays to taking an electric bike tour up the sloping ranch hills of Waimea with Big Island Bike Tours and Rentals, you’re bound to make lasting memories on your trip to Hawaiʻi Island.
HAWAIʻI ISLAND: Where to Stay
- For Luxury: Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Autograph Collection
While Hawaiʻi Island may give off the image of being all country, there are numerous luxury and high-end resorts perfect for the traveler who likes a little extra comfort on their trip to Hawaiʻi.
And the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Autograph Collection is among the finest on the Big Island.
Developed by Laurance S. Rockefeller as the first resort on the island, the accommodation has seen numerous high budget renovations and modernizations in its time and maintains a truly high level of luxury.
- For Activities: Royal Kona Resort
Since Hawaiʻi Island is so big, the location of your accommodation is key for those looking to do and see as much as they can on their trip.
Fortunately, the Royal Kona Resort is in a very convenient spot—close enough to Kona’s world-famous beaches as well as inland attractions like Mauna Kea and the paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) town of Waimea.
- For Families: Hilton Waikoloa Village
With a nearby blacksand beach, a massive swimming lagoon, a host of on-property activities for the whole family and one of the best breakfast buffets on island, the Hilton Waikoloa Village is perfect for those traveling with kids or a large ʻohana.
It’s also one of the biggest properties in the state with its very own ferry to shuttle around visitors across the massive resort.
- For Travelers on a Budget: Grand Naniloa Hotel Hilo
If you don’t want to break the bank but still want top-of-the-line accommodations, the Grand Naniloa Hotel Hilo is a perfect solution.
Right next to Hilo town—which is a great place for shoppers and families to check out—the Grand Naniloa Hotel Hilo still has all of the makings of a top-of-the-line Hawaiʻi hotel—aloha-first customer service, spacious rooms and plenty of accommodations—at a reasonable price.
KAUAʻI: The Garden Isle
BEST FOR: HIKERS, BOTANICAL GARDENS, OFF-THE-GRID LIVING, FOODIES
Among the Hawaiian Islands, Kauaʻi stands out as being truly blessed by nature.
Known as the Garden Island—since it is home to so many botanical gardens—Kauaʻi has won over visitors’ hearts with its bounty of natural attractions.
From the Napali Coast—which is hikeable via the Kalalau Trail—to the effervescent beaches of the island’s southern shoreline, there’s so much to do and see on Kauaʻi.
For hikers, the Kalalau Trail is a must, and is one of Kauaʻi’s finest outdoor treasures.
Snaking along the Napali Coastline, this path will take you to remote beaches, hidden waterfalls and verdant valleys.
Of course, there are hundreds of other hikes and trails on Kauaʻi that are worth checking out, from the isolated Māhāʻulepū Trail to the gorgeous Nounou East ‘Sleeping Giant’ Trail.
Kauaʻi’s called the Garden Island because it is so rich with world-class botanical gardens.
From the Allerton Garden—where they filmed segments of the original ‘Jurassic Park’—to the Limahuli Garden and Preserve, which is a treasure trove of archeological Native Hawaiian sites, there are a handful of gardens on the island that visitors need to see.
If you’re looking for off-the-grid living accommodation to truly disconnect on your Hawaiian vacation, Kauaʻi’s north shore is dotted with inns and licensed vacation rentals and serves as a perfect, sunny escape from society.
Not only is the signal spotty up north, the area isn’t as populated as many other northern coastlines in Hawaiʻi, making it the perfect place to set up for some quiet rest and relaxation.
While most visitors may look to Oʻahu first for culinary experiences, Kauaʻi is actually a great place to be a foodie.
Placing a huge emphasis on sourcing local, restaurants and eateries across the Garden Island serve some dishes that truly highlight what is grown and produced locally here in Hawaiʻi.
From Merriman’s Kauai to the Plantation House by Gaylords and Hualani’s Restaurant, there are so many choices for those looking to truly taste Hawaiʻi.
KAUAʻI: Where to Stay
- For Families: Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa
Being so close to Poʻipū Beach and the surrounding southern shorelines of Kauaʻi is a blessing for families.
With the beach just being a quick walk away, you won’t have to shuttle your little ducklings into the car every time you want to have fun in the sun.
And the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa is a beautiful property with a host of accommodation perfect for parents andkeiki.
- For Luxury: Timbers Kauai
Among the highest of high-end accommodations on Kauaʻi, Timbers Kauai is truly a paradise in paradise.
Property highlights include spacious oceanfront residences—that’s right, not hotel rooms, but residences—all with their own private lānai and panoramic views of Nawiliwili Bay, VIP access to Ocean Club at Kalapaki Beach, which is located right in front of the property, and access to the excellent Hualani’s Restaurant.
And golfers will revel in the magnificence of The Ocean Course, a Jack Nicklaus Signature.
- For Travelers on a Budget: The ISO Mokihana
This boutique accommodation located in the small town of Kapaʻa is perfect for the visitor who still wants pristine, unique beachfront digs without having to shell out the big bucks for nightly room rates.
Rooms feature contemporary, rustic-chic decor and the property is private enough to feel like you have a little corner of Kauaʻi all to yourself.
The Bull Shed is the hotel’s on-site restaurant and is a favorite among locals and visitors for its classic surf ’n’ turf cuisine.
- For Nature Lovers: Kokeʻe State Park
If you’re not a camper, don’t fret, glamping accommodations are on offer at Kokee Lodge, located in the Kokeʻe State Park.
Take, for example, the deluxe Lehua Cabin, which offers a full-size kitchen, an in-cabin shower, heating, two single beds and a king bed.
Nicer than even a standard hotel room, the cabins available to visitors are a perfect way to spend your vacation in the great outdoors, nestled amongst the greenery of Kokeʻe State Park.
LANAI/MOLOKAI: The Pineapple Isle/The Friendly Isle
BEST FOR: CULTURE, HISTORY, NATURE LOVERS, OFF-THE-GRID LIVING
Lanai and Molokai are truly unique islands to visit.
They stand up against the test of time—and overdevelopment—and have maintained a sense of old-Hawaiʻi that is truly authentic.
And the people who live there are as local as it gets.
While both islands definitely don’t have as many accommodations as Oʻahu, Maui, Kauaʻi or Hawaiʻi Island, there are still places to visit, see and stay on both Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi.
On Molokaʻi, visitors can find themselves a home-away-from-home at the Hotel Molokai, where the gentle sounds of the ocean are always within earshot.
While you’ll need to rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle to access most locations on the island, it’s definitely worth the rental fee to see such as the sacred Hālawa Valley and the epicly long Pāpōhaku Beach Park—one of the longest beaches in Hawaiʻi.
And no trip to Molokaʻi is complete without a visit to Kanemitsu’s Bakery, which is home to loaves of bread so good that the small bakery has won multiple James Beard Awards for excellence in its baked goods.
Lānaʻi is also known for its small-town charm, in fact the island only has one—small—town, Lanai City.
Here you can find an assortment of small businesses, eateries, a museum to the island’s pineapple plantation past and even a small boutique hotel, Hotel Lanai.
For those looking for true luxury, the Four Seasons Resort Lanai is in a world of its own, offering visitors the epitome of service and hospitality.
Like Molokaʻi, you’ll need a vehicle with four-wheel-drive to see much of the island, which is dotted with empty beaches and beautiful sights.
While O‘ahu, Maui, Kauaʻi, Hawaiʻi Island, Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi all have their own unique charms, visitors can be rest assured that regardless of what island they choose to visit, the experience will be a great one.
Every island has something for every kind of visitor, and while Oʻahu may have the most nightlife in the state, there are still plenty of bars and drinking holes to visit on the Big Island.
And if you have the time and funds in your travel budget, island hopping is a great way to experience two—or three—island vibes on your Hawaiʻi vacation.